Derrick Jensen and Native American spirituality

This is not the first time I have mentioned Derrick Jensen in this blog. His writing is unbeatable in terms of bringing home the horrific reality of the destruction of this living planet being carried out by the industrial system – and, of course, in terms of inspiring people to do something to fight back.

The very depth of his analysis lends a certain undercurrent of spirituality to his work, but he now seems to be going further in that direction.

I have just caught up with his 2009 novel Songs of the Dead, which very much revolves around a mystic and timeless dream-consciousness connection to the natural world.

Here is a passage to give you a flavour:

“I see Indians dancing. I see fires. I see days and nights and years of celebrations and mournings. I see people making love. I see the same for all kinds of animals, all kinds of plants. I see them living, dying, loving, hating. I see generation after generation of human, generation after generation of cedar, generation after generation of porcupine, generation after generation of ant, generation after generation of grasses, mosses, generation after generation of fire.

And suddenly I see even more. I see generation after generation of muse, dreamgiver, demon, walking back and forth between worlds. I see geese and martens and wrentits moving between worlds. I see humans moving between worlds. I see all these worlds being renewed by this intercourse, this movement across borders porous and impenetrable and permeable and impermeable and breathing and alive as skin. I see these worlds winding and unwinding, tangling and untangling like the lovers they are, and I see moments in time, too, winding and unwinding, tangling and untangling like the lovers that they are, too. These worlds, these moments, they are not one, they are not two. They are lovers, like any others.”

Jensen here reminds me of both Richard Jefferies, with his ability to rise above the moment and see centuries and millennia spread out beneath him, and also of the Sufi poet Rumi, with his use of the word ‘love’ to describe his relationship to the Oneness.

As an American, the human spirituality that Jensen tunes into is that of the American Indians who shared the land with nature for so long before the arrival of the Europeans.

The central character in the novel is psychically wounded by the life-hating violence of the ‘wetiko’ invaders and makes an interesting comment about the difficulties for people of European descent in America to link into a collective unconscious.

“I asked for dreams. Nothing. I looked at the stars and asked. Nothing. I sat beneath trees and asked. Nothing. I held soil in my hands and asked. Nothing. My only hint of anything, and I’m sure this was simply a projection on my part, was a faint voice saying, ‘I can’t hear you very well. You’re too far away.’

Projection or not, what the voice said to me was true. My ancestors, the ones whose blood mingled for generations with the same soil, are half a world away in Europe, too far away to be able – at least with my inexperience – to help me.”

But is this a problem or a blessing in disguise? If we believe that spiritual energies go a lot deeper than human cultures, and that our relation to them is ingrained deep in the universal human psyche, then we should not need any specific framework in which to search.

Yes, it might be easier for us to access these deeper levels by making use of living spiritual traditions and yes, it does help if we can find some resonance in the geographic location where we live.

But those of us living in the ‘Old World’ risk being thwarted and misled by the layer and layers of falsehood that cover the useful and neglected core of religion.

Is it, perhaps, easier to connect straight to the heart of things via indigenous spirituality, which is directly sourced in nature and not clothed in the many deceits of civilization?

As ever, I’m interested to hear people’s views on this. Email me at paulcudenec(at) or leave a comment
About Paul Cudenec 185 Articles
Paul Cudenec is the author of 'The Anarchist Revelation'; 'Antibodies, Anarchangels & Other Essays'; 'The Stifled Soul of Humankind'; 'Forms of Freedom'; 'The Fakir of Florence'; 'Nature, Essence & Anarchy'; 'The Green One', 'No Such Place as Asha' , 'Enemies of the Modern World' and 'The Withway'. His work has been described as "mind-expanding and well-written" by Permaculture magazine.

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